BALANCE: the practice of grace


Like the famous landmark, Balance Rock, in Arches National Park in southern Utah, we all need to have balance and to be able to withstand all kinds of assaults to that balance (wind, rain, hot, cold, etc). And if we can keep grounded – if even on a pillar of rock – we can keep balanced and be an inspiration to others.
– Ken Stewart

Grace by Don Lifto
To save or be saved?
Healing balm, salvation’s grace
(It’s not about me!)


The Haiku above contains two emotive and spiritual words –generally understood, but uttered infrequently in every-day conversation:  grace and balm.  In referencing the Merriam-Online Dictionary, it is interesting that it is the second meanings for both words, not the primary definitions, which speak to us from the seventeen beats of the Haiku.  The technical definition of balm is an oily, pleasant smelling substance from specific tropical trees used to heal or protect the skin.  The literal meaning of grace, on the other hand, describes the elegance of movement as in a beautiful dance.

The secondary meaning of balm speaks to the powerful soul medicine of comfort, soothing, relief, succor and the salve of soul healing for a troubled spirt (whether your’ s or someone else’s).  The alternate meaning of grace, on the other hand, embodies the generous, free and underserved good will and favor of God. (or spirit)  In combination, balm and grace are the building blocks and mortar of a spiritual soul grith – always possible to give and receive, albeit sometimes just out of reach like a dessert mirage or shrouded and unrecognizable through the lenses of life’s circumstances.

The parenthetical reference in the third line of the Haiku (It’s not about me!) is a reference to a comment by Kate Christopher, who was a member of what I affectionately coined my “UU Kumbaya Group” at the White Bear Lake Unitarian Universalist Church where we attend.  The Sharing Circles model, which I was a part of in 2013, is small groups that get together monthly to explore spiritual themes within the context of the church’s principles in general, and more particularly the monthly themes throughout the year.  Kate’s (It’s not about me!) reflection was her reminder that to be the source of balm and grace one must focus on the needs of others rather than how particular situations or behaviors are affecting (or inconveniencing) us.

The antonyms for balm and absence of grace include such words as grief, desperation, exacerbation and misery.  The reservoir to provide balm and grace is only limited by the capacity (and regeneration) of our hearts and courage.  The capacity to accept these salves of soul healing requires a willingness to break one’s heart open in order to make space for love.  Or as Dar Williams reminds us in his song, “Every time you love just a little/Take one step closer to solving a riddle/It echoes all over the world.”

May it be so.

The Epitome of Grace by Peggy Ludtke

I looked up at the fast rolling clouds hoping to catch at least a glimpse of the solar eclipse and was graced instead with a raindrop landing on my forehead. My expectations for the once in the lifetime event  were literally called on account of rain; Instead of witnessing an astrological phenomenon, I got grace. Grace, in this case rain, is what happens when I go after what I think I want but get something else. Grace is the consolation prize.

I have come to understand  that grace needs hurt, disappointment or at the very least something unexpected before it arrives and then only if I am  broken open enough to receive it. More poetically put, grace is the light that shines through the brokenness whether it’s a matter of a broken spirit, a broken dream, or a broken heart. Put one more way in a baby boomer context, it is like the chorus in that Rolling Stone song, You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well you just might find, you get what you need. (Aka, grace.)

Broken in spirit since the November election, and searching for something to counter or fill in at least a crack or two,  I started volunteering at Valley Outreach, the food shelf in Stillwater. I am a front desk volunteer which means for a couple of hours each week, I answer the phone, process food and clothing donations,  occasionally call homebound clients to remind them a food delivery will be coming to them later in the week.

When I am not there, other volunteers do this same front desk gig, and when there isn’t a volunteer, one of the paid staff sits at the desk and does these tasks as well as their other duties. In other words, the front desk is always filled whether I am there or not.

Am I making a difference? It is difficult to argue that I am since the good work Valley Outreach does goes on whether I volunteer or not.  I am not sure why I picked such an obtuse way to take to task and fight against the current mean political climate.  It is definitely a roundabout way to combat a government bent against rather than for all the people. I won’t try to explain my actions, although I have heard volunteering and donating are way up since November.  I will say that what I’ve witnessed in the process of my volunteering is the epitome of grace.

From the front desk, I  watch need and generosity intersect. Anyone who walks in and says they need food, will be given an emergency bag of groceries no questions asked, no proof of necessity or citizenship required. Perhaps because of the name Outreach, or simply the reputation it has, people come in asking for help finding housing or paying their bills too. Always they are met with respect, and either helped with what they need or directed to another service.

Then there is the other side of the graceful equation: generosity. During my two hour shift,  a fairly constant stream of people back up their cars to unload garden produce, can goods,non perishables and clothing. The front bins are always full and the back rooms overflow with benevolence. There are hundreds of volunteers that come here to help out with sorting and organizing this too. I know because I alphabetize their name tags when I am not busy with other meet and greet tasks at the front desk.

From the front desk, I witness this dance of goodwill, and even though this is not what I expected to get out of volunteering at Valley Outreach, this is the symmetry, the grace that goes on here.  V.O. is a good place resisting the meanness that is going on in the world. Looking expectantly for something else, I suppose a chance to make a difference, it is the splash of a raindrop reminding me the world needs this too.

Grace will take you places hustling can’t.– Elizabeth Gilbert


This tree has been precariously balanced on the edge of a cliff - for decades or maybe centuries - pummeled and graced with the forces of nature. This brings to mind a conversation in which these words were shared: 'Grace is a gift and an invitation into the unexpected. We give up all control of balance and in the giving up, in allowing one's self to surrender, we find balance.'

This tree has been precariously balanced on the edge of a cliff – for decades or maybe centuries – pummeled and graced with the forces of nature. This brings to mind a conversation in which these words were shared: ‘Grace is a gift and an invitation into the unexpected. We give up all control of balance and in the giving up, in allowing one’s self to surrender, we find balance.’
-Laurie Kigner



Balanced Rocks
Who stacked these rocks?
How did they do it?
Joyfully placed
Imperfect stones
Did they know that tree branches break?
Or that deer run these woods?
“Quick!” they holler,
Take a picture.
-Jennifer Miller


A marsh wren in delicate balance. - Ellen Lowery

A marsh wren in delicate balance.
– Ellen Lowery

Balance: A Deaf Perspective by Tehya Daniels

I am going to tell you a story. This is a story about an identity crisis that I had last year. As I have explored what it means to be balanced, I have realized that this crisis was caused by an imbalance of sorts. Before I begin, you have to understand something about me- I am Deaf, and use a cochlear implant on my left ear to hear. Without the implant, I cannot hear anything. I was born hearing, but I have a genetic disorder that caused my hearing to progressively go down. My parents, knowingly, started to teach me American Sign Language (ASL) as a baby. I knew over 60 signs before I could talk. As my speech developed, I started to use ASL less and less. When my hearing dropped for the first time when I was two, my speech skills were already flourishing. By the time I was four, most of my hearing had been lost, and I was implanted.

For the rest of my childhood, ASL became the language I knew little about, and it became the culture I could be a part of, but never was. The extent of our ASL use became the small signs here and there that we used when I was swimming, and had to take my implant off.

When I started high school last year, I enrolled in the ASL One class for my language credit. My teacher, who taught hearing students, was Deaf. In this class, I learned so much about Deaf culture, and what it meant to be Deaf. I started to have feelings of resentment towards my parents for not completely exposing me to this new world in the Deaf culture.

At this time, I was also the “new kid” at school. Before ninth grade, I had gone to a private school. For high school, I had to start over, and make new friends. Because I am shy, I struggled to connect with people. I blamed my inability to connect with people on my hearing: I struggled to hear people, so THAT was why I felt so alone. I started to question my role in the “hearing world.” I sought comfort and friendship in the Deaf world.

The first time I went to an all Deaf event, I was extremely nervous. People were signing everywhere. Because I was still an ASL beginner, I felt lost. I felt alone in a crowd of people who were very similar to me. I was extremely upset. In the hearing world, I struggled to hear. In the silent world, I struggled to sign. I could not win. At this moment, I vowed to become fluent in ASL. If there was nothing to do about my hearing ability, at least I could improve my ability to sign, and be able to easily communicate in at least one world.

For the first few months of school, as I learned more about the Deaf community, I planned to grow up, become fluent in sign language, take my implant off forever, and never speak or hear again. I had so much anger trapped inside me. Anger against my parents, anger against myself, anger at the universe for making me have to deal with my situation. I felt as though I had to chose between the hearing world and the silent world. I made a pro-con list: How would my life be affected if I were to take off my implant for good? I realized that my life is based on my interactions with the hearing world. All my friends are hearing. I listen to music, I love movie sound effects, I love the sound of the ocean waves lapping on the shore. I love the sound of leaves in the fall, the silence of winter, the humming mosquitoes in summer. I realized I need sound in my life. Sound is present in all of my memories. There was only one thing I was forgetting; I am Deaf. I can’t hear song lyrics, I can’t hear the ocean while I am swimming in it, I can’t hear people when they turn away from me. I am Deaf. I realized, that although I needed the hearing world, I needed something else too- something only the Deaf world could provide. A common bond with the Deaf community- we all struggle to hear in a LOUD environment.

Last year, all of these thoughts were constantly running through my head. Now, looking back, I have come to the conclusion that I need to have a balance. A balance of both worlds; I can be a part of the hearing world, but I can also be a part of the silent.


Take cupsful of light
Sifting off a blue jay’s wing
Toss briefly with morning coffee,
Then remove yourself
To the measured sounds of traffic, and
Winter crisping beneath
Your boots, add
Children’s voices,
And liquid smells—
Exhaust from buses,
Dirty hair
Chicken for lunch.
Words flow everywhere–liters–gallons
So much to choose from–
Rhymes of hat and bat and cat.
First grade things…
Numbers adding up to cookies.
Stories in books, on shelves,
The disarray from 500 bodies
Using 1000 hands to choose or reject.
Didn’t their mothers teach them anything
But conflict?
If I could I would feed them all a poem.
Fearless life in 200 words or less–
No angry streets, no guns, no absent parents.
But Mark says,
“I’m throwing it away. Teacher, look at me.
I’m throwing it away.”
Can I save him?
He’s only seven.

Fold him in gently, try again.
Words can heal,
Love can mend,
Giving up is not an option.

Thank God for bird feeders, sunshine
And coffee in the morning.
-Jean Doolittle

Gratitude for a Man of Grace
For Tim Stoddart

It’s easy to take Tim’s generosity for granted.
His approachable nature draws us in; his broad
life connections weave us one to another.
Tim is a man of water, a man of movement.
He has spent hundreds of hours kayaking lakes and
rivers; he has made meals for the hungry and the hopeful.
We cannot know what it feels like to have these things
taken away too early and face such a challenge.
We can only hope to model his courage and his grace.
-Bill McCarthy